​Cowboy cook Kent Rollins at home on the range

For hungry cowboys out on the range, nothing hits the spot like the chuck wagon. Scott Simon of NPR has been sampling the menu:

Kent and Shannon Rollins offer bright smiles and hot coffee on a cold prairie at 4 a.m. (along with eggs, sausage, gravy and biscuits), on the Calthan Cattle Company ranch near the very small town of Seymour, Texas. And company's coming!

Cowboys ride up in trucks, hauling snorting horses in trailers behind them. They warm their hands over cups of coffee and take off their hats under the first streaks of sun, for a morning prayers.

"Lord, I ask you to make us ever-mindful of the little things we take for granted..."

The cowboys fuel up to work hard, the way few people do anymore: herding 500 cows, 500 calves and 30 bulls across 20,000 acres.

"Thank you for all the many things and the blessings in life. Thank you for my little, sweet wife. Amen. Let's eat!"

Kent and Shannon Rollins are cooks prepare who their cowboy meals-on-wheels on an actual, working chuck wagon.

"'Chuck' is a slang word that cowboys or cooks used to use for food -- 'Hey, time for chuck!'" said Rollins.

It's a Studabaker, manufactured in 1876, way before the company made cars. Rollins figures their wagon travels 40,000 miles a year, and tries to keep it orderly:

There's a place for everything -- serving utensils, canned goods, staples, and other stuff. "Everybody's got junk drawer at home? That's junk drawer," Rollins said.

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The Rollins' chuck wagon.
CBS News

And everything has a purpose, or multi-purpose, like the chopper that's a hash knife, scraper, spatula, dicer/chopper, and windshield scraper.

And then there's Bertha, Kent's 30-year-old wood stove: a 385-pound cast iron hunk o' burning love and heat.

"She puts out a lotta good warmth in the winter," he said. "And she'll burn you up all summer."

The food can't be fussy. Space is tight. "Fresh" is impractical -- you don't roll past organic farmer's markets on a cattle drive.

But Kent Rollins chops, seasons, and gets Bertha to cough up green beans with snap; hominy with green chiles that bite; and grilled Angus beef as tender as a honky-tonk torch song, with peach cobbler for dessert.

Simon asked, "How do you feel about anybody who calls you a chef?"

"Well, chefs are people that have had proper training at school, you know?" re replied. "It sorta goes against my grain. A chef creates fancy food. Can't get full-on fancy. We create food you can eat."

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Kent Rollins
CBS News

Kent was raised near the banks of the Red River, where his father ran a cattle business in Hollis, Oklahoma.

"So, what do you learn by growing up in a place like Hollis?" asked Simon.

"Simplicity, most of all," Rollins said. "And being able to improvise. We didn't have a lot to get by on. But we never went hungry. Everybody got to eat. And that was the best part of it. There's more to a table than just the legs that hold it up. It's the family that binds it together."

Kent learned how to rope and ride, and how to grill and bake.

"My mother started me cooking when I was probably six or seven years old. She taught us all to cook, clean and sew, you know. She said, 'You'll use 'em someday.' There never was much of a recipe. It was a little dab of this and a pinch of this. But I learned a valuable lesson from my mother at that time: She said, 'Cook what you love. Love what you cook.'" And that's what we've always done.

Cowboy cooking may not look like haute cuisine, but there are time-honored rules: Cowboys tip their hats and watch their language.

"There's no foul language at a camp when there's a woman present," Rollins noted.